Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic Stalks Kostunica

There are fears the deposed federal president Slobodan Milosevic will attempt to undermine his successor.
By Srdjan Staletovic

Slobodan Milosevic may have been swept from power, but he could continue to haunt Serbian politics for some time to come.


Milosevic remains in control of Yugoslav finances and exerts influence over the republican government, a coalition of his Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, the United Yugoslav Left, JUL, and the Serbian Radical Party, SRS.


Over the years, the former president salted away much of the country's hard currency reserves in foreign banks. He could now use the funds to destabilise the regime by sponsoring subversive activities such as kidnappings and assassinations.


Milosevic would in all likelihood turn to his paramilitary allies to carry out such acts. These are the fanatics and desperadoes he hired to prosecute his dirty wars in the Balkans. In return for their loyalty to Milosevic, they were granted semi-legal status and allowed to enrich themselves on the spoils of war.


Amid the jubilation of the last few days, ex-president's "executioners" have kept a low profile, but they certainly haven't disappeared.


Many must now feel that their days are numbered. Once sanctions are lifted and the rule of law returns to Serbia, their corrupt sanctions-busting businesses will be finished. And if the new authorities allow Interpol and The Hague war crimes investigators into the country they will be facing long prison sentences.


President Vojislav Kostunica must act against Milosevic and his paramilitary cohorts - and quickly. Any delay gives the former president an opportunity to order his henchmen into action.


Milosevic would use officials in the interior ministry - the majority of whom he recruited from criminal ranks - to organise subversive activities.


Kostunica would be hard-pressed to intervene because the Serbian parliament, still controlled by Milosevic supporters, could thwart his attempts to get rid of police officials. However, he did win a significant victory over the security services on Monday when the Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic resigned.


Milosevic's continued influence over the interior ministry of course depends on whether Serbia's governing coalition can survive. At present its prospects don't look particularly good. In the run-up to the federal elections, there were bitter exchanges between the SPS and JUL. And both fell out with the SRS. Inter-party tensions remain.


In addition, all the parties in the republican assembly agreed on Monday to early elections in December. But they stopped short of immediately dissolving the parliament. The resistance is understandable: many of the pro-Milosevic deputies can be expected to lose their seats in a ballot. Indeed, throughout Monday's assembly session, they delivered anti-reform speeches.


So the Milosevic influenced republican administration could continue for some time, providing the ex-president with ample opportunity to undermine attempts by Kostunica to reform the country.


Milosevic, an arch exploiter of divisions and rifts, will also keep his eye on tensions in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, alliance. The coalition is made of 16 politically ambitious parties and the former president is well placed to exacerbate divisions and conflicts between them. The opposition has a long history of debilitating divisions, and already some internal tensions have emerged.


For the moment though, Milosevic is likely to sit and wait for the euphoria of the opposition triumph to die down. Once it does, he'll begin to manoeuvre and manipulate.


One former high-ranking SPS official, who preferred not to be named, believes that even if he is offered asylum in some other country, Milosevic will want to stay put in Belgrade: "As long as he is in Serbia he will try to return to power - he's simply that kind of personality."


Srdjan Staletovic and Milenko Vasovic are both Belgrade-based journalists and long-time contributors to IWPR.


More IWPR's Global Voices